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Why The iPhone 5 Is The Same Width as The iPhone 4S

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Apple’s new iPhone has a taller display, but it’s the same width as every other iPhone before it. So what gives? Why would Apple stretch one dimension, but not the other like the competition?

Apple kept the iPhone 5 display the same width because it’s easier to handle and type on it with a single hand. A wider iPhone would make this more difficult and likely require two hands to hold the phone and type. Or, as Phill Schiller said “it should be easy to use with this magical device we all have called a horizontally-opposed thumb.”

iPhone 5 one hand

Apple designed the iPhone 5 for one hand use.

Android phone manufacturers have been growing both the height and width of their devices, which some users prefer for consuming content. But they’re sometimes difficult to use with a single hand. Just try sending a text message with one hand on one of these things without straining your thumb.  Giant phones like the Galaxy Note II and the LG Intuition, with 5-inch and larger screens, are difficult to use with two hands at times, let alone with one.

By keeping the same width Apple also made it easier to reach every app icon on the phone. On the iPod Touch page, Apple iPhone 5 screen size areaillustrates the ease of reaching the taller screen with an image of the area a user’s right thumb can easily cover on the screen. The area extends to almost every icon on the screen, with only the top-left icon proving difficult to get to.

The width also gives the iPhone 5 a 16:9 aspect ratio which is better for watching movies and TV shows. Instead of seeing large black bars while watching widescreen video, the iPhone 5 will show most movies full screen. Most HDTV shows and movies are distributed in 16:9 or a similar widescreen ratio so they will show up full screen on the iPhone 5 as shown in the video below, about 3 minutes in.

Another issue with wider smartphone is they can be more difficult to fit into a pocket. For some users, fitting a recent high-end Android phone in a pocket is difficult because of they’re size. The iPhone 5 is just about as pocketable as the iPhone 4S, as it only adds 8.6 millimeters of height. Apple’s iPhone might still have some room to grow before the iPhone 5 is relegated to a bag instead of a pocket, but the size definitely looks more comfortable to put in a pocket than a Samsung Galaxy S III.

Shawn is a tech junkie who spends most of his time reading and writing about it. You can follow him on Twitter, @shawn_i.

6 Comments

  1. TheRealCBONE

    09/17/2012 at 9:24 am

    The real reason is that if they increased the width as well, they would give the appearance of caving to change demands and copying Android devices. The idea that it was to keep it easy to use one-handed is stupid and a load of crap. They increased the dimensions in a way that you can touch even less of the screen with one hand, especially if you hold your phone in the stupid, gimpy way they always demonstrate!

    Supporting your phone with the base of the thumb rather than the base of the fingers wastes all the articulation and range of the thumb, palm, and wrist. You can easily hold and touch all 4 corners of a 4.5+inch phone with one hand if you hold it in a non-stupid fashion.

  2. John Kutzman

    09/17/2012 at 9:37 am

    I haven’t been able to one-hand any on-screen keyboard since I got my first touchscreen phone — an original Droid — in 2009. I don’t know the actual measurements and ratios, but that device seemed a lot narrower to me than my current Galaxy Nexus, and I still couldn’t one-hand it. So I’m skeptical that many Apple users are really one-handing their onscreen keyboards, but if they are, more power to them.

  3. Diogenes (@tCynic)

    09/17/2012 at 9:43 am

    You realize that by keeping the same width Apple went from their 4:3 aspect ratio to the 16:9 aspect ratio that most android phones use? It has nothing to do with keeping the phone easy to use with one hand. Android OEMs did 4 inch screens. 4:3 aspect ratios are stupid for one handed use. That’s all it boils down to.

  4. Geri O

    09/17/2012 at 10:15 am

    Which is to say that iPhones suck and Android rules, right?

    Do you seriously think that what you find comfortable or not should be the same for everyone?

    G

  5. Ryan Renolds

    09/17/2012 at 3:41 pm

    They still could have made it wider without making it impossible to hold in one hand. The claim is ignorant. They should have made it wider. Who cares about a 16:9 ratio. A better ratio can be obtained with longer and wider dimensions.

  6. Jonathan

    09/19/2012 at 8:36 pm

    by saying “A wider iPhone would make this more difficult and likely require two hands to hold the phone” I understood Apple reckon his users as small handed :P

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